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Saturday, January 30, 2010

What Paternoster Materials are Period?

Beads of wood, coral, shell, seeds, glass, ceramic and stone have been documented since well before the medieval era, as has metal castings techniques for pewter, silver and brass/bronze/gold. Thus, the materials in this case do not limit for time period.

Lampwork beads would be the only exception, as they would be later period (Venetian glassmakers consolidated in Murano, Italy around the 1270). More information on dating specific glass beadmaking techniques is available through Chris Lanings website,

Single strand paternosters have been documented through various period artwork to have been extant from around 1100. I quote Chris Laning, paternoster expert:

"From at least as early as A.D. 1000, rosaries, paternosters or similar strings of prayer beads have been a common accessory carried by men and women, old and young.

Indeed, the small round objects we know in English as “beads” were named from this practice; the root of the English word bead is the same as for the word bid, and originally meant “to pray or request.”

The practice of counting prayers using a string of beads is very old. There are legends of St. Anthony in the desert counting his prayers with pebbles in the third century, and a string of beads is preserved in Belgium that is said to have been buried with the saintly Abbess Gertrude (d. 659). Other religions use prayer beads as well, but we cannot be certain whether Christians, Muslims and Hindus invented the idea independently or borrowed it from each other.

Among the early mentions of prayer beads in England is the will of Lady Godiva. She actually did exist (although her naked ride through Coventry is mythical) and died in about 1041. She left to the monastery she and her husband had founded, “a circlet of gems that she had threaded on a string, in order that by fingering them one by one as she recited her prayers, she might not fall short of the exact number.”
From paternoster to rosary

The first prayer medieval Christians recited on prayer beads was the “Our Father” (in Latin, Pater noster...) For those who could not read, reciting 150 paternosters was regarded as equivalent to reciting the 150 Psalms. The beads used for counting were called paternoster beads: usually a string of 10, 50 or 150 beads, with or without dividing markers."

If you are looking for other examples, take a look at Chris Laning's blog on the web. It is probably the most comprehensive I have seen. If, however, you are just trying to find out what paternosters during your particular period may look like, then give me your date, and I will help you, or I may even post a period example from that date, if there is one available.

Hope all this helps - I have been researching the history of paternosters for almost a year now, and have compiled over 1000 pages of information and photo clips, so I am happy to field any questions that you may have. Wink

Grace Martin

PS:  I have included a photo of my latest creation - a duplicate of the paternoster seen in Saint Jerome in His Study.  This particular example contains 17 beads - an odd number, but accurately reproduced from the portrait.  I chose amber glass beads for this project.  Let me know what you think!

The Example:


My Version:
(the beads are much more rich than in this photo - I think my color settings were off on my camera)

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